Mike Grell's Permission To Die

Permission To Die is a James Bond graphic novel by Mike Grell and first appeared in 1989 with the subsequent parts published over the next few years. The story revolves around a reclusive and brilliant rocket scientist named Erik Widziadio who has offered Britain new technology (blueprints for a cost effective satellite launch system) in return for a big favour. Widziadio wants his niece Edaine rescued from Hungary and the task is (unsurprisingly) assigned to British Secret Agent James Bond. Bond travels East and teams up with a tribe of gypsies - which include the children of his old friend Kerim Bey - in order to rescue Edaine from the convey she is being transported on but, as usual, 007's problems are only just beginning. The camp is soon under attack, Edaine has still to be rescued and smuggled to safety and is Erik Widziadio all that he seems? 
This is a decent attempt to step into the shoes of Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak and create a new comic book Bond although it does have one or two problems. The story for starters seems a little rushed in the later sections and James Bond himself seems to alter slightly in appearance more than once as you read through. Grell is influenced by the McLuskey illustrations of Bond from the old newspaper comic strips but there is also more of a hint of (then current 007) Timothy Dalton in there sometimes and (unavoidably perhaps) Sean Connery elsewhere. During a flashback panel Bond looks like George Lazenby too. The colour art is very good on the whole but a more consistent depiction of Bond might have helped. Grell seems to morph all the different Bond universes (Fleming, the film series, the Bond continuation novels) in Permission To Die and it works quite well at times although some readers may find themselves wishing he would make his mind up.
Grell's M is clearly Bernard Lee from the Connery and Roger Moore films and Moneypenny is very Lois Maxwell but Bond is given an Asp 9mm gun by Q - just like the Bond of the John Gardner continuation novels. He uses an alias from the Gardner novels too and some gadgets from the films You Only Live Twice and Thunderball. Just to complete the frothy fusion of influences and continuities, May, Bond's housekeeper from the Ian Fleming books, also appears in Permission To Die. Q is Major Boothroyd and Grell sort of makes this character his own by giving him a huge mustache. There are a couple of pleasant flashback panels inspired by books and films too. In one, a dreaming Bond conjures up images of Dr No (obviously Joseph Wiseman), scuba divers from Thunderball, Jill Masterson covered in gold paint from Goldfinger, and his short lived marriage to Tracy. Grell draws Bond and Tracy to look like George Lazenby and Diana Rigg from the film adaption.   

The general story here is not bad and there is plenty of action to keep things moving along. The book opens with Bond at an ambassador's function that is attacked by terrorists with the SAS eventually called in and there is the assault on the gypsy camp and rocket capers. Erik Widziadio is quite a fun character and has a scarred face from torture he received in the East. He has a mask and an underground lair (that both owe a lot to The Phantom of the Opera) and he also plays tunes on an organ like Herbert Lom did in that Pink Panther film where he went mad and tried to take over the world. The book has echoes of Ian Fleming's Moonraker novel when Widziadio creates a new form of rocket propulsion with his scientific wizardry. Moonraker is one of my favourite Ian Fleming James Bond books so I generally enjoyed these elements when they appeared in the story.
The art is fine with some some nice flourishes. I liked the panels of Bond gazing out of the window after his dream/nightmare of past exploits and seeing the image of Tracy reflected back with a bullet hole in the windscreen in front of her. It doesn't really make any sense if you think about it for too long but I like the idea of some vague continuity lurking somewhere so that an incarnation of Bond in whatever form can reflect on the character's history as if that character was him. It probably explains why I can't stand the recent James Bond film reboot. Although Grell could have put his own stamp on the character a little more and done his own thing it's fun nonetheless to see M drawn to look like Bernard Lee with those famous padded doors from the old films in the background when he meets Bond in his office.  
mike grell bond
The mention of Kerim Bey's name triggers a nice moment too when Bond has a flashback to Kerim shooting Krilencu in the big billboard scene in From Russia With Love. The story and dialogue was also by Grell and it's not bad with some suggestive quips a la the cinematic Bond and one or two patronising asides. 'Well thank God for feminine curiosity!' Permission To Die is a decent read but the rushed final third and the inconsistent depiction of Bond - sometimes he looks like the Daily Express 007, sometimes he's Timothy Dalton, sometimes he's Sean Connery, sometimes he's a mixture of Dalton & Connery, sometimes he's a new Grell Bond etc - is just a teensy bit irritating at times. I quite enjoyed Permission To Die but ultimately I felt it didn't quite have the charm of the old classic newspaper strips by Yaroslav Horak. 
You could probably make a case for the view that Permission To Die might have been a little more atmospheric in black and white and it doesn't quite all hang together but anyone interested in James Bond or comics will find this an interesting and relatively entertaining read.

- Jake 


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